By Jan Savage

ON Monday night, BBC Scotland’s Disclosure programme, Locked in the Hospital, highlighted a damning human rights scandal that has been unfolding on our doorstep for more than two decades.

In Scotland today, 129 people who have a learning disability and/or autism have been in hospital for more than a year; 40 people for more than 10 years; and 15 people for more than 20 years. Not because they are unwell, but because they cannot find the right support to live the life they choose, in the community they choose, close to the people they love.

This is completely unacceptable. It flies in the face of policy commitments since the seminal Same As You report in 2000, and is not consistent with Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that people who have a learning disability have the right to live independently and be included in the community.

While progress has undoubtedly been made over the last 20 years, there seems to be a final remaining barrier to fully ending inappropriate institutional placements which is proving stubbornly resistant to change.

And with more than £4 billion of public money spent on adult social care in Scotland every year, via 1,000 registered social care providers across the country, we must ask ourselves why? We know that better is possible.

Indeed, at ENABLE we have demonstrated – through a balanced partnership of equals with individuals, the NHS and social care professionals across multiple disciplines – it is possible to support a person out of long-term hospital placements into sustained community-based living where that person directs their own support, and thrives. Not only have we achieved this with what medical professionals involved describe as one of the most complex hospital discharges they had ever experienced, but we have enabled individuals to achieve their human rights in the most challenging circumstances possible – in the midst of the Covid pandemic.

We cannot allow the systemic response to the current post-pandemic pressures to be a defaulting to institutional “solutions” for our citizens who have complex care and support requirements, rather than learning from, scaling and replicating human rights-driven, self-directed support solutions which have demonstrably worked, and making this available as a right to people who have a learning disability.

The Scottish Government and Cosla’s commitment to “reduce” inappropriate long-term hospital stays by March 2024 is very welcome, and comes alongside plans to launch a National Care Service by 2026.

But the human rights of people with a learning disability cannot be suspended indefinitely while we wait for new policy developments. As ENABLE Scotland member and campaigner, John Feehan, said when the Implementation Report was published in February this year, the day for celebration will be in March 2024 when we have met this target, and people have full access to their right to live independently in the community they choose, supported by the people they choose. This human rights emergency must be addressed as a matter of urgency, and the harrowing stories shared in the BBC Disclosure programme must serve as a call to action for all of us.

Jan Savage is Director of ENABLE Scotland